"I venture the opinion that the time is not distant when the marine ram will take the place of the enormously expensive armour-plated gun-bearing ships of today…The marine ram, however, should be regarded as the principal element on which dependence is to be placed, and in order to meet requirements should have speed and the power of maintaining it for twenty hours at least, handiness, great strength of construction, and a practical invulnerability to shot…"Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen, USN, The Naval Annual, 1887 (pages 109, 110)
Twenty-five centuries after the triremes of Athens and the other Greek City-States defeated the larger Persian fleet of Xerxes at Salamis with the ram, Admiral Ammen and other prominent senior naval officers thought that their time had come again. Admiral Ammen had long been one of the chief proponents of maintaining a navy of harbor defense vessels and wanted a fleet of steam rams for this purpose. In 1889 one was finally authorized for the USN, based upon Ammen’s designs. The result was the USS Katahdin. At 2,155 tons, the green painted Katahdin, was a warship of significant size. Inspite of it’s purely retrograde concept of employment, the Katahdin was an innovative design. For the time, the hull lines were very streamlined. She was fitted with a double bottom that could be partially flooded to lower the ship’s silhouette and consequently present a smaller target. The Katahdin also employed inclined armor, two to six inches thick, to form a huge armor turtleback. Superstructure and deck fittings were kept to a minimum. These amounted to a heavily armored conning tower, stack, signal mast, ventilators, davits and skid beams for the ship’s boats and four 6-pounder QF guns. The principal weapon was the enormous cast steel ram at the prow.
In mounting the QF guns, the Katahdin departed from the ideas of another proponent of the ram for the USN. "Rams, intended purely for harbour defence, would be better without than with guns. They themselves are the projectiles; or, if you please, they are to be the shot, and the steam is to be the powder; and the effect of both, properly combined, would be absolutely irresistible. Besides, to fit the rams for guns would be to swell the item of cost largely, and thus abridge their multiplication." Rear Admiral Goldsborough, USN, The Naval Annual, 1887, (page 109)
LAID DOWN: July 1891; LAUNCHED: February 4, 1893; COMMISSIONED: February 20, 1896; EXPENDED: Sunk as Target in 1909
DISPLACEMENT: 2,155 tons (2,383 tons full load)
DIMENSIONS: Length- 250 ft 9 in wl (76.42m oa); Beam- 43 ft 5 in (13.23m); Draught- 15 ft 1 in (mean)(4.6m)
ARMAMENT: Cast Steel Ram and four 6-pounder QF guns
ARMOR: Harvey and NS, Side- 6in to 3in , Uptakes- 6in , Deck- 6in to 2in, CT- 18 in
MACHINERY: 3 cyl boilers, 2 shaft HTE 5,068ihp; 16 kts (on trials forced draught) 13-14kts normal; Coal- 175/202 t)
Katahdinwas completed in 1895 and although her engines exceeded their designed horsepower, her top speed on trials of 16.1 knots (with forced draught) was a knot short of contract speed. Her actual top speed under normal conditions was 13-14 knots. A special bill had to pass Congress in 1896, to allow her acceptance into the USN. After one year of shake-down, she was decommissioned.
With the advent of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Katahdin was re-commissioned to calm the nervous citizens of the eastern coast of the USA, who were fearful of the ravages of Spanish cruiser squadrons. George F. Wilde, her commander, had great confidence in the abilities of Katahdin, if only he could get at the Spanish. Finally in June 1898, he received orders for Katahdin to join the squadron blockading Santiago, Cuba. Brimming with enthusiasm and confidence, he set sail, eager to prove the value of his potent command, only to be recalled en-route, after Cervera’s squadron had been destroyed. Katahdin was immediately decommissioned again and stayed in that status until employed and sunk as a gunnery target off Virginia in 1909. (Bulk of the history is from American Steel Navy by John D. Alden, Commander, USN (Ret), page 48)
The Katahdin presents minimal superstructure, so there are comparatively few smaller resin pieces. There were a few small defects in the small parts. A couple of voids were present in the J ventilators and there were a couple of pinhole voids in the funnel. All of these are easy fixes. Since I received an early copy, not all of the small parts were present. I’ll receive the QF guns, ship’s boats and a few other small parts, the other anchor and propeller among them, next week. The kit will come with a Photo-Etch Fret but the fret is not yet available. In addition to railing and ladders, the fret will contain the boat racks that were popular in warship designs at the end of the 19th Century, boat davits, ship’s wheel and some other goodies. Likewise, the instructions were not yet available. However, given that this ship was all hull, it appears to be a very easy build.
The good citizens of Boston, New York City and Philadelphia can rest easier now. With the USS Katahdin on duty, John Bull and the other European potentates will think twice before they bring their intrigues to our shores. Now all we need to be completely secure, is the USS Vesuvius, pneumatic dynamite gun cruiser.